Review Summary: A modern take on Dylan's classics, this is how cover albums are supposed to be done.
Cover albums are always a difficult thing. It's a fine line to tread; to bring a personal touch to the music, although without altering the original artist's vision. It's the same principle as with remakes of movies; the last thing anybody wants to see is a scene by scene remake, but remove too many of the elements that made the original what it was just defeats the purpose. There's a lot of elements that need to come together for a successful cover album and Tim Hockenberry and Tom Corwin certainly had all of those at the front of their minds when this project was conceived back in early 2004, with the aim of bringing a modern prospective to some of the timeless classics from legendary songsmith Bob Dylan. And to pick Bob Dylan of all artists to cover, meant the bar was set high from the start with this project. It was an ambitious task that the two musicians set out to undertake, but the result is something truly mesmerizing.
It was an interesting but inspired choice to have Tim Hockenberry take the role of lead vocals; his voice is a far cry from Dylan's. I first came across him through his work with The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, where his mesmerizing voice just matched so well with the piano driven ballads the Orchestra are fond of. His sound is certainly unique. Picture if you will the low gravely tones of Louis Armstrong crossed with soft crooning of Rod Stewart (with a fraction of Ray Charles thrown for good measure) and you'd have a fair idea of Hockenberry's voice. It's his voice that drives this album, and you'll realize why from the first word he sings. His voice has got such a raw and rough quality to it, and even sounds harsh at times, but throughout the album he still somehow manages to linger in style of smooth R&B ballads. His voice is also aided by the exceptional production value and instrumentation, showcasing laid back, minimalistic drums, gentle bells, pianos and soft echoing guitars. It all blends into one warm sound, that's gentle on ears and soothing for the mind and the soul.
Many of Dylan's classics are here, and it's Hockenberry and Corwin's treatment of Dylan's signature songs that make for a real treat. Such an example is found in Dylan's definitive anthem 'Like A Rolling Stone'; it's been stripped right back and slowed down to a cruisy, mellow rock ballad. While there's so much going on in the original version, here everything's been simplified; with the guitar playing basic chords and the focus being very much on the vocals. However it's on the real slow songs where this laid back approach works best. 'Boots Of Spanish Leather' conjures up images of slow dancing under a starlit sky, with echoing guitars and drawn out vocal lines. It's at times like this where Hockenberry's in his element, working every drop of emotion out of Dylan's lyrics and exploring a wide and diverse vocal range 'Mr. Tambourine Man' is also another winner; it's more upbeat, with a solid country rock feel, while 'Tomorrow Is A Long Time', featuring just a mellow picked acoustic guitar and dreamy synths, feels like it could have been taken directly from a Disney movie's obligatory 'thoughtful pause for reflection' scene.
This is an album for drifting into sleep, discovering first love and watching the sun set over the hill on long summer evenings. I do wonder what a true Dylan fan would think of these slick modern interpretations of Dylan's work. However since I'm not a die-hard Dylan fan myself, when I listened to this I was judging it as a creation of it's own, and not spending all my time comparing to how well it followed and differed from the originals. The matter of fact is that it's a brilliantly soothing album, and one that I'm going to still be enjoying for many months from now.
One Too Many Mornings
Mr. Tambourine Man
Boots Of Spanish Leather